Following a contentious presidential election, we find ourselves beset by one of the biggest challenges our country has ever faced. No, it is not the fiscal cliff we hear so much about. The largest challenge our country faces is the climate cliff. If we do nothing to address climate change in the next four years, the solutions become more limited, more expensive and more damaging to our country. President Barack Obama has acknowledged that climate change is happening and that it represents a grave threat to America. We ask now for his leadership. Addressing climate change will require the work and ingenuity of many people for many years. But we must make a beginning. We need a leader who will challenge us to tackle this problem. We are a strong and clever people. We work hard. We can solve with this problem. But we need a leader to ask this of us. We are not climate scientists. We are biologists and citizens, teachers and students, parents and grandparents. But we have read the science and the results are clear. The world’s most well-respected climate scientists agree that the world’s climate is changing and that we are the cause. Some areas are getting warmer, some are getting wetter, some are getting drier. Sea level is rising. If we do not limit our release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, these changes will become even more extreme. The Midwestern droughts, the year without winter in New England and Superstorm Sandy offer a series of disquieting vignettes of our future. Right now, many Americans do not understand the threat. Congress frustrated the president’s early efforts. Powerful interests have sown confusion. In spite of this, business leaders, financiers and insurers now recognize the growing threat of climatic uncertainty to economic prosperity. The science is clearer than ever, and the public and financial communities understand the need to act now. But we lack leadership. Climate change was noticeably absent from President Obama’s speeches both before and during the election. By not discussing climate change, the public gets the impression that climate change is not a concern. By openly discussing climate change at this moment in history, the president can inform and unite Americans against the common threat we face. The president can and should present a major address to the nation about climate change — not unlike his speech on race. The nation has a moral responsibility to provide leadership on this issue not only to itself but to the world. Other countries have already changed their energy policies and are providing world leadership. Now it is time for America to lead. We have faced great challenges before — slavery, two world wars, and the communist threat. Each time, Americans responded as a unified front despite the costs. Now we face a new threat. The threat does not originate from a military or nation, but from a shapeless and far more unforgiving enemy. This enemy threatens to rob America and Americans of their security. No one should feel secure when the climate — the very basis of our food and our economy — is shifting. Failure to act now will mean more severe warming, more extreme droughts, more frequent storms and it will mean that this “new normal” we have created will last longer than the hundreds of years to which we already are committed. This is not a partisan issue. Climate change threatens everybody, regardless of their political affiliation. Now is the time to launch a major program to address these changes, to mitigate the damage that we already have done and to minimize any additional damage. This is a bigger challenge than the race to put a human on the moon. It’s bigger than the war on poverty or the war on terrorism. It is far more important than the fiscal cliff. The consequences of failure are far more serious, multi-national and multi-generational. We have delayed too long. Now it is time to act. But we need the president’s leadership. It is time for our newly re-elected president to take charge and to lead us away from the looming climate cliff.
This text was developed by Mark Urban and Bob Capers, in conjunction with Greg Anderson and Gene Likens, and other participants* during a seminar on NATURE, SCIENCE AND SOCIETY , Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Connecticut. The text appeared as part of an ‘Opinion Piece’ in the Sunday 2 December edition of the Hartford Courant (CT).
*SEMINAR PARTICIPANTS Greg Anderson, Professor Emeritus Mona Anderson, Associate Research Professor Lara Ariori, Master's Student James Bernot, Master's Student Alyssa Borowske, Doctoral Student Bob Capers, Staff Botanist Wen Chen, Doctoral Student Marilyn R. Gould, Master's Student Don Hoyle, Retired United Methodist Clergyman Michael Hutson, Doctoral Student Brian Klingbeil, Doctoral Student Gene Likens, Special Advisor to the UConn President on Environmental Affairs and Distinguished Research Professor Jessie Rack, Doctoral Student Dustin Ray, Doctoral Student Mark Urban, Assistant Professor Tanisha Williams, Doctoral Student